Dennis Hopeless & Kev Walker
Fair warning: there will be spoilers in this post. I was a big fan of several of the books that Avengers Arena assembles its characters from, in a battle to the death, where only one will survive. Avengers Academy is the one that this seems to really follow up on, beginning with the students of that book, but we see characters from Runaways and Annihilation, among others, with characters like X-23, Darkhawk, Nico, Reptile and Juston from Sentinel up for the slaughter. There are several students that are obviously cannon fodder, but the stakes are high, as there are some big names that, well, I don't want to see die here.
And who's behind this game? Arcade, of course, referencing the teen books that this is obviously borrowing the idea from. And if it's not apparent enough that people will die here, Arcade kills off a big character right off the bat, in a pretty dramatic scene. I should have seen it coming, given that in any Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where a couple is happy, one of them dies, but given that the character was one that had a big role in Avengers Academy, and he had a really cool design, I just didn't see it coming.
The story is told through the eyes of Hazmat, another character with a cool character design, and perhaps my favorite of the bunch. We begin at "Day 29" (Arcade says that the game will last thirty days), and Hazmat is battling X-23 to the death, so we know of two characters who will be around until the end. Flashback to Day 1 and we see the students awakening in this horrible game, where many of them don't believe the situation. Arcade makes it clear that they will kill each other to survive, even if they don't believe it now, proving his case by asking for the least powerful among them to die first and asking for that person's name. No one caves, but Hazmat's temper sets her up as the candidate, until Mettle stands up to his death in her place. A very heartfelt scene, as the two have just become happy, having shared their first intimate moments together before this all happened, with years of waiting for it through the pages of Avengers Academy.
Hopeless and Walker prove with this debut issue that they're not messing around, and quickly establish this as an exciting new series with dire consequences. Despite the fact that the idea isn't exactly original these days, they manage to make it feel fresh and populate the title with characters that fans are already invested in, which is a smart way to begin a book like this. I will be curious about how the creators get the players to really turn on each other, as they are all heroes, but it's sure to be an interesting read, if anything. This first issue is really well-executed, paced to perfection, with hints of horrible days in the future for the teenagers here. And I have to admit, I loved every minute of it.